Odysseus was alive and well, but people thought he had died, so a host of unruly suitors were plaguing Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. In the first book of the Odyssey, Athene visited Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, and urged him to expel the suitors from the house, if possible. She also advised him to visit Nestor in Pylos and Agamemnon in Sparta to learn whether they had heard any news concerning his father.
At the beginning of the second book, Telemachus arose early in the morning and ordered the heralds to convoke an assembly of the Achaeans. Accompanied by two dogs, Telemachus attended the meeting and sat down in his father’s seat.
Aegypius was the first to speak. He was old and wise. His son Antiphus had sailed to Troy with Odysseus, but he died when a cannibalistic Cyclops ate him. In addition to Antiphus, he had two other sons, including Eurynomus, who was one of Penelope’s suitors.
Aegypius wondered who had convoked the assembly. It was their first meeting since the time when Odysseus sailed to Troy. He concluded his brief speech with a pious wish that pleased Telemachus.
Telemachus then rose to speak. After receiving the scepter from the herald Peisenius, he identified himself as the man who had convoked the assembly. He complained at length about the conduct of the suitors, who were wooing his mother against her will, coming daily to his house, and feasting at his expense.
Telemachus was visibly angry as he spoke, and he shed tears as well. At the conclusion of his speech, Telemachus threw the scepter on the ground.
Most of the people sympathized with Telemachus, but a suitor named Antinoüs ventured to reply. He tried to shift the blame to Penelope, who had played a trick on the suitors. To excuse herself from choosing a husband immediately, she claimed that she first had to finish weaving a burial-cloth for Laertes, the father of Odysseus, who was already very old.
The suitors waited patiently. However, three years passed, and the burial-cloth remained unfinished. Finally the suitors learned that Penelope had been tricking them. Every night she secretly unraveled all that she had woven during the day. After learning about this trick, the suitors forced her to finish the burial-cloth even though she did not want to do so.
Antinoüs averred that because of Penelope’s trickery, the suitors had a right to feast daily in the house of Telemachus and they would continue to feast as long as Penelope refused to choose a husband.
In the course of his speech, Antinoüs had suggested that Telemachus send his mother back to the house of her father Icarius so that he could arrange her marriage. Telemachus did not want to treat his mother that way.
He urged the suitors to feast in their own houses. Each of them could take his turn serving as host. He warned the suitors that if they continued to consume his property, they would incur the wrath of Zeus.
When Telemachus finished speaking, Zeus sent two eagles from the peak of a nearby mountain. They flew above the assembly and glared down at them with death in their eyes. Then they scratched one another on the cheeks and the neck. Finally, they veered to the right, flying over the city as they disappeared from sight.
Halitherses understood this omen. He warned the suitors about the calamity that they were about to suffer. Odysseus would soon return, bringing death and destruction, not only to the suitors, but also to others on the island. To avert the impending catastrophe, he suggested that the suitors discontinue their activities, either voluntarily or as a result of community pressure.
Long ago, when Odysseus was about to sail to Troy, Halitherses had prophesied that twenty years would elapse before the Ithacan hero returned home. Halitherses now pointed out that this old prophecy was about to be fulfilled.
In reply, Eurymachus refused to believe that the flight of the eagles was a portent. He accused Halitherses of fabricating the prophecy to gain the favor of Telemachus. He insisted that Odysseus was dead.
Like Antinoüs, Eurymachus urged Telemachus to facilitate the marriage by sending his mother to the house of her father. He also insisted that the suitors would continue their feasting until Penelope chose one of them.
Since Telemachus had already presented his case before the assembly, he did not answer the previous speech of Eurymachus. Instead, he asked for a ship and twenty men and explained the reason for his request. He wished to make inquiries concerning his father in Sparta and Pylos. If he should learn that his father was alive, he would endure the conduct of the suitors for another year. If he should discover that his father had died, he would return home, honor his father with funeral rites, and give his mother in marriage.
Mentor then rose to speak. He scolded the assembly for meekly allowing the suitors to harm the house of Odysseus, who had ruled over Ithaca in a kindly fashion.
A suitor named Leocritus then spoke. He bragged that Mentor would never be able to assemble enough men to drive the suitors from the house of Odysseus. He probably based his assertion on past experience. Before sailing to Troy, Odysseus had entrusted the care of his house to Mentor, so Mentor had undoubtedly quarreled with the suitors when they first barged into the house of Odysseus.
Leocritus added that even if Odysseus returned to Ithaca, he would not be able to expel the suitors who were feasting in his house. If a fight occurred, Odysseus would be outnumbered, and he would die an evil death.
Leocritus told the assembled Achaeans to go home and suggested that Mentor and Halitherses assist Telemachus with his travel plans.
The people went home, and the suitors went to the house of Odysseus. In the meantime, Telemachus went to the shore of the sea. Here he prayed to Athene, complaining about the conduct of the overbearing suitors. In response, Athene approached him, disguised as Mentor.
After bolstering the courage of Telemachus, she discussed the impending voyage. Athene told him that she would equip a ship and gather a crew. She would also accompany him on his journey. In the meantime, Telemachus was to return home and gather provisions for the voyage.
At home, the suitors were preparing a feast. Antinoüs invited Telemachus to join them and promised that the suitors would find a ship and a crew for Telemachus.
Telemachus refused to feast with them. He told Antinoüs that he was no longer a child, and he would try to bring it about that the suitors suffered an evil fate.
The suitors mocked Telemachus. They regarded his words as a futile threat by an impotent young man. They joked about his plans to murder them. Perhaps he was planning to bring help from Pylos, or perhaps he was going to purchase some poison in Ephyra and poison their wine with it. Another suitor suggested that Telemachus might die at sea. Then they would have to divide his wealth among themselves.
To gather provisions for the journey, he enlisted the help of Eurycleia, who had been his nurse. He told her not to tell Penelope about his plans unless she became concerned about his absence. He did not want his mother to worry.
Meanwhile, Athene assumed the form of Telemachus. In this disguise, she assembled a crew and borrowed a ship. After sunset, when the ship was ready to sail, she went to the house of Odysseus and made the suitors sleepy, so that they left early.
Athene then altered her appearance once more, so that she resembled Mentor again. In this form, she conducted Telemachus to the ship. Then Telemachus returned home with his crew to fetch the provisions that Eurycleia had assembled for the journey.
After the provisions had been deposited in the ship, Athena, Telemachus, and all the crew got on board. The mast and sails were put in place, and they started on their journey. Athene gave them a favorable wind.
This summary is based on the Greek text presented online by Sacred Texts. I also consulted an offline English translation by Allen Mandelbaum.